[Oberon] Development boards (was: Interfacing with Foreign Systems)

Chris Burrows chris at cfbsoftware.com
Sat May 2 01:57:27 CEST 2020

It is prudent to be concerned that hardware is going to survive for a reasonable amount of time. So much appears suddenly and disappears just as quickly that it is difficult to keep track. This was a major factor when we decided to support the Digilent FPGA Arty boards with our ‘Embedded’ Project Oberon system:




My experience and subsequent investigations indicated that Digilent have an excellent track record for supporting their hardware for a reasonable lifetime. I also monitor the stock levels that are kept by the major electronics distributors (e.g. Mouser, Element14, Digikey etc.) as an indication of the faith they have in the viability of these systems.


My primary interests in RISC5 Oberon are:


* the use of the Oberon language for bare-metal programming of embedded hardware

* the Project Oberon operating system kernel as an RTOS

* experimentation with Verilog to add additional hardware capabilities e.g. I2C protocol, special-purpose CPU instructions  etc. 


All of the Digilent boards suit these purposes admirably.


Although I admire the design of the Oberon GUI it is of lesser interest to me. However, it would be a real shame if more boards did not become available in the future to support it. As I did with all of the previous boards (Digilent Spartan-3, OberonStation, Pippistrello, Pepino) I will do what I can to provide support for them in Astrobe (for no cost) while the boards remain in production. In the meantime my understanding is that there is sufficient information available for the Pepino to enable anybody to get a board manufactured. Presumably a batch would need to be ordered to be feasible.


Far too often the price (NOTE: NOT the eventual cost!) of a system gets a disproportionate amount of attention. While it is a factor, I don’t think this should be the overriding consideration for anybody who is planning to design a suitable board. Somebody who is really serious about their hobby is more concerned about value rather than cost. You only need to look at the money spent by amateur photographers, model railway enthusiasts, Lego builders, radio-controlled modellers, video gamers, cyclists etc. etc. to see evidence of this. 



Chris Burrows

CFB Software




From: Oberon [mailto:oberon-bounces at lists.inf.ethz.ch] On Behalf Of Guy T.
Sent: Saturday, 2 May 2020 7:47 AM
To: oberon at lists.inf.ethz.ch
Subject: Re: [Oberon] Interfacing with Foreign Systems




>From your answer, I understand that you would prefer a simple solution in the same realm as the FPGA based NW Risc5 design. This is certainly an aspect that need to be considered.


The reality today is that I don’t see any ready-made processor chip available that would be simple enough to be a contender to a simpler FPGA design, unless you look at old technologies no longer available elsewhere than on eBay. The ESP32 I’m working on cost me around $4 CDN each and it comes with around 1450 pages of describing both the CPU  architecture (around 660 pages) and the 20+ interfaces in a technical reference manual (around 680 pages), and this doesn’t take into account the ESP-IDF framework.


The NW design is very interesting and very useful for computer science education. But the reality right now is the difficulty to get access to a ready made board that would survive for a reasonable amount of time in term of availability, unless an open design is made available and simple enough for a guy like me (I’m a hobbyist in electronics) or a student that would be able to build one in his basement. The last board have seen is the ulx32 (https://www.crowdsupply.com/radiona/ulx3s). Very interesting, but will it survive? (it is too complex to be built at home) I hope so, unless other alternatives appear. 


Maybe the solution is to follow two tracks: An FPGA based solution and a commercial board based solution (read: Raspberry Pi and/or BlackBerry like boards). Nothing is perfect here.


Again, it's all depend on the orientations that the community wants to take. 


Me, I don’t really care to what orientation will be taken. For now, I’m using the risc5 emulator on my laptop and have fun in building the compiler for the ESP32. IOT development is my current spin. I would be more serious in developing stuff with the Oberon OS if I can get an interesting platform to run it.







>> What about the RISC-V processor. It is supposed to be an open architecture. Is there anybody with some knowledge about it?


>There are RISC-V experts in this forum. I can only offer a quote and an opinion:


>Quote: RISC-V is featuring "a cornucopia of simulators, applications in the object tool chain, debuggers, C compilers and libraries (also compilers and runtimes for other languages), boot loaders and monitors, kernels and operating systems, and integrated development environments (IDEs) [1]. 


>1. Max Maxfield, Introducing RISC-V and RISC-V Tools, February 14, 2019, 



>My opinion: Tools of this complexity can hardly fulfill their open source promise outside the realm of hardcore developers.



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